The faces of adversity: Bemidji seniors mourn the death of a final season that never was
Forty-two seniors had one more chance to play for Bemidji High School this spring.
And now they don’t.
The Lumberjacks, like nearly all of their peers across the country, are now burdened with the reality of no games, no meets and no matches due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Minnesota State High School League officially canceled the spring sports season on Thursday, shutting the door on another rite of passage.
“There’s just no way of getting this season back,” said BHS Activities Director Troy Hendricks. “That’s the part that’s difficult for those families, for those kids, for those coaches who have worked extremely hard and were looking forward to that senior season. It’s not going to come.”
For many, this spring should have been the last act in representing their hometown. Yet a lifetime of anticipation, all leading to the culmination of their careers, was lost in one fell swoop.
“I can’t even begin to understand what they’re going through,” Hendricks said. “But I know that, through this difficult situation, they’ll handle it like true Lumberjacks. There are better days ahead, and they’ll become better people because of it.”
In lieu of a senior season, Bemidji athletes from all seven spring sports offered their perspectives on adversity, on loss and on an opponent no one saw coming.
Damaris Berg: ‘I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had’
Damaris Berg reached the highest stage of golf last year. Good thing, too, because it turned out to be her last window of opportunity.
“I was really hoping for a good season,” she said. “But I’m really thankful that I had the season I did last year, and had the chances that I did. Going to state (as an individual) was an amazing experience.”
This season, for the first time since 2013, the Lumberjacks won’t be represented at Bunker Hills. Berg, nor fellow seniors Nora Abrahamson, Emma Alexander, Kylen Fenson and Eva Laituri, will even have the chance.
“We obviously wanted to go to state as a team,” Berg said. “That was a big goal, and that has been a big goal for many years.”
However, Berg’s family has helped her keep a grounded perspective.
“They’re saying that it’s great I had that experience last year,” she said. “And I’ve had the experience (of playing golf) freshman to junior year, so that was super nice. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had.”
Berg also quickly acknowledged that this isn’t the end of the world. And she’ll still have plenty of chances to hit the links.
“I still have the rest of my life ahead of me,” she said. “And I can still play golf whenever I want. Some sports, you can’t play again after high school, but golf, you can continue as long as you want, really.”
Berg will pursue Biblical studies at Free Lutheran Bible College in the fall.
BHS girls golf seniors: Nora Abrahamson, Emma Alexander, Damaris Berg, Kylen Fenson and Eva Laituri.
Dylan Hinners: ‘We could have done pretty well’
Dylan Hinners saw it coming.
“When things started to get bad and they started talking about shutting down schools, I figured there was a pretty good possibility that the season wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “So it didn’t hit me too hard once they announced it. I figured there wasn’t too much hope for it.”
Hinners had high hopes for his boys golf team, which featured a young core that would have had the chance to prove itself on the course and earn its stripes throughout the season.
“Our team looked really good, and I was really looking forward to playing with a bunch of guys that I hadn’t played with before,” Hinners said. “We had some new people on the team. … I feel like we could have done pretty well this year.”
Instead, the Jacks will never know. Hinners will graduate this spring, alongside senior teammates Ryley LaVenture and Vinny Tesch, without the chance to author a new chapter in the program’s storied history.
“The best way to look at it is that there isn’t much we can do. We sort of have to deal with what’s been given to us,” Hinners said. “Being optimistic in this time is really tough, but hopefully, if we keep that mentality, we’ll be able to get through the next few months.”
Hinners will enroll at Bemidji State this fall, where he will major in accounting. He hopes to play golf for the Beavers as a walk-on.
BHS boys golf seniors: Dylan Hinners, Ryley LaVenture and Vinny Tesch.
Ashley Hofstad: ‘I was so excited to compete’
This spring was supposed to be a final chance for Ashley Hofstad to spend time with her childhood friends.
“When they finally did call it all off, it was pretty disappointing,” she said. “I had a great group of friends that were going to be in track this year, and I was so excited to compete.”
Hofstad would have been off and running in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. Like fellow seniors Katie Alto, Kayla DeWitt, Danielle Gray, Lindsey Hildenbrand, Ada Lee and Gwendoline Youso, the captain was driven to beat her personal-best times and had aspirations of making the state meet.
Hofstad held out hope, but she read the writing on the wall.
“I’ve been bracing myself for this,” she said. “I was trying to stay positive and say, ‘Maybe we’ll come back.’ But I kind of knew that it was going to end.”
Hofstad won’t get the chance to chase her goals, and, what’s worse, she’s even been denied the opportunity to share the season with her teammates.
“This was one last hurrah before our senior year ended. Those girls are my best friends, so I was pretty excited about it,” she said. “We’re pretty bummed out. We’re not able to play our sports, but we’re not even allowed to see each other. On a daily basis, we’re not even allowed to hang out, which is really tough.”
Hofstad will attend Minnesota State University Moorhead next year to study physical therapy.
BHS girls track and field seniors: Katie Alto, Kayla DeWitt, Danielle Gray, Lindsey Hildenbrand, Ashley Hofstad, Ada Lee and Gwendoline Youso.
Keena Kondos: ‘It’s heartbreaking for all of us’
When Keena Kondos walked off the field to end last season, she had no idea it would be for the last time.
“We obviously wanted to go to state super bad this year,” the second baseman said. “Losing in the section championship last year was pretty heartbreaking for us. It’s a heartbreaker that that’s our last game, but that’s the reality now.”
Kondos is one of eight seniors on a veteran softball team, joining Riley Bradley, Gracie Fisher, Maddie Hanson, Emma Stanoch, Anikka Takkunen, Lindsey Theis and Katie Watt in a group that had its sights on a second section title within three years.
Without the opportunity to earn it, though, the bunch has relied on each other as they cope with a sour end to their careers.
“There’s been a lot of tears, not going to lie,” Kondos said. “But it’s been all right. I’m still in touch with my teammates and everything. … We’re doing a lot of communication, which is good, but it’s heartbreaking for all of us.”
Kondos has combated the sad reality by leaning on teammates, going on walks and spending extra time with family.
“We’re trying to be positive with everything,” she said. “It could be way worse for us. We could end up getting the coronavirus. We’re all still pretty blessed in a way.”
Kondos will hop across town to attend Bemidji State in the fall, where she will major in elementary education.
BHS softball seniors: Riley Bradley, Gracie Fisher, Maddie Hanson, Keena Kondos, Emma Stanoch, Anikka Takkunen, Lindsey Theis and Katie Watt.
Steven Peterson: ‘I’ll probably never fully get over it’
Undoubtedly, a pandemic can pretty easily throw a wrench into someone’s future. Just ask Steven Peterson.
“I was going to take this school ball season to determine whether or not I was going to play in college,” he said. “I’m not really sure how that’s going to go now.”
Peterson, the ace of the baseball team, was gearing up to go alongside fellow seniors Colby Carlson and Reid Colley. The trio was ready for their last run at a section championship, which has proven to be close but oh-so elusive in recent years.
“All throughout childhood, it’s basically all working up to your senior year of your baseball season because that’s the first big, monumental step in your career,” Peterson said. “It’s leaving your mark on the program as a senior and potentially being a captain, too. Now that none of that gets to happen, it’s going to suck. I’ll probably never fully get over it.”
However, the team has found an outlet to overcome the postponement, and ultimate cancellation, of the season: whiffle ball.
“It’s fun getting out there to play without any stress,” Peterson said. “We had a lot of fun with that, so we were all really happy. … We always told ourselves, ‘Hey, if there’s no school ball season, we’re going to start a whiffle ball league.’”
This fall, Peterson will attend Vermilion Community College for its Wildland/Wildlife Law Enforcement program. He is undecided on his plans with the Sailors’ baseball team.
BHS baseball seniors: Colby Carlson, Reid Colley and Steven Peterson.
Louis Saxton: ‘We don’t have total control’
A year removed from heartbreak, Louis Saxton’s boys tennis team reloaded for redemption.
“We were extremely strong,” Saxton said. “It was really tough knowing that, after all the early work we’ve put in, we weren’t going to get a chance to go prove that we were this good.”
In 2019, the Jacks fell one match shy of the program’s first state berth. All but one graduate was due to return, and 10 seniors -- Jonah Fuhrman, Eric Guida, Wyatt Harrom, Ben Hess, Silas Hess, Isaac McNallan, Kolden Michalicek, Logan Mitchell, Quincy Wilson and Saxton -- had the team believing it was capable of history.
That’s why it stings.
“We all, in the back of our minds, were preparing for this,” Saxton said. “But at the same time, we really hoped that something was going to miraculously happen so we could get our season back.”
Saxton understands the takeaway from the cancellation -- that “we don’t have total control over everything in our lives all the time.” But, clearly, it can be a costly lesson to learn.
“The players on the team have been handling it wonderfully,” Saxton said. “… All the boys are sad because it’s not only the competition we’re losing out on. It’s the environment, the community that you get to be a part of when you’re in a sport. That’s what I’m missing most.”
Saxton will attend the University of Colorado Boulder this fall on a cello scholarship. He hopes to remain involved in tennis within the school’s club program.
BHS boys tennis seniors: Jonah Fuhrman, Eric Guida, Wyatt Harrom, Ben Hess, Silas Hess, Isaac McNallan, Kolden Michalicek, Logan Mitchell, Louis Saxton and Quincy Wilson.
Nick Snell: ‘I’m just thankful to be safe’
Nick Snell knows the world has more to worry about than high school track and field right now. So, all things considered, he counts himself lucky.
“There are a lot of people out there losing a lot more than their senior season,” he said. “People are losing jobs or losing loved ones. … Being in the position I’m in right now, with a healthy family and being healthy myself, it’s pretty relieving that this is all I have to worry about.”
Snell had planned to compete in the 200-meter dash, the 400-meter run and the long jump, plus the 4x200 and 4x400 relays. Now, nobody will know what he and fellow seniors Jaden Atkinson, James Branham, Aidan Helwig, Gage Mostad and Alex Robertson would have accomplished.
“It was my last season in high school sports,” said Snell, a three-sport athlete. “I wanted to put everything I could into seeing how far I could go, how fast I could get. It’s tough not knowing what I could have done. I’m just thankful to be safe right now.”
The past month of staying home has helped Snell brace for the seemingly inevitable to come to light.
“My family and I have really connected a lot more because of this,” he said. “It’s helped me stay happy and stay positive, and that’s allowed me to be positive for my friends and my teammates who are also going through it.”
Snell will attend the University of North Dakota this fall and study computer science.
BHS boys track and field seniors: Jaden Atkinson, James Branham, Aidan Helwig, Gage Mostad, Alex Robertson and Nick Snell.